Former House Members Talk Working Across the Aisle


Alexandra Fosbury ’21, Life & Style Editor

Two former members of the U.S. House of Representatives shared at a “Congress to Campus” panel that they have been able to work across political parties; however, much of the work Democrats and Republicans do together is not publicized.

One of the panelists was Don Manzullo, a Republican who served for the 16th congressional district of Illinois from 1993-2013. The other was Democrat Betsy Markey who served in Colorado’s 4th congressional district from 2009-2011.  Assistant Professor of Political Science David O’Connell facilitated the panel, and included questions on the reputation of congress in relation to party-polarization in the U.S. 

Manzullo said that he finds lack of civility between opposing parties contributes heavily to negative perceptions of congress. “It’s about how you treat people,” he said, “lack of civility has been building over the last 30 to 40 years.”

Markey said there is a misconception about bipartisanship and cooperation within congress. “You do work together, not on the big issues…but on a lot of the smaller bills,” she said. In addition, Markey feels that social media also influences citizens, especially young adults, negatively. “I think that’s dangerous right now, so many of us are in our echo chambers,” she added.

O’Connell asked the panelists how they decided to get involved in congress. 

Markey said she had never considered running for office even though she had been involved in public policy and politics for many years. Instead of knowing her path in life would lead to a position in government, Markey felt that as a woman she was never encouraged to pursue a career in government. In 2005, however, she began working for former Colorado Senator Ken Salazar (D), who asked her about running for congress. “Women aren’t really encouraged to run,” she said, “…we haven’t been socialized for it, women typically need to be asked three times.”

Manzullo, on the other hand, decided he wanted to be a member of congress at the age of 10. When he eventually decided to run, he faced difficulties within his party, which sued him to keep him off of the Republican ballot. Manzullo offered advice to anyone interested in pursuing a career in politics. “If you want to run for office, don’t run because of you. It’s about the people that you want to serve. It’s not about you; it’s about the people you represent,” he said.

Professor of Political Science James Hoefler said “Congress to Campus” provided useful insight to students. He said he was particularly impressed by Manzullo for speaking candidly about his opinion of President Donald Trump. “I was really happy to see a Republican willing to call the president out… Last year we had a panel of Republicans and not one of them said a discouraging word [about the president] and it was really quite stunning and shocking,” Hoefler said. 

Students said they enjoyed the opportunity to hear from former congressmembers of opposite parties. “It was a great experience to be able to hear from people who served in our House of Representatives… especially to hear from both a Democrat and a Republican, and a man and a woman,” said Sophie Ackert ’21.

Libby Cohen ’21 said the perception of congress is usually one of fragmentation, but Markey and Manzullo showed a more cooperative side of congress. “For these two congressmembers, they did get a lot done and they formed lasting relationships with people from the opposite sides,” she said.

However, Ackert felt as though some questions were not answered as directly as she expected. “The former members of congress didn’t always answer the questions directly or at all,” she said. “However, they still gave useful information and advice about holding office,” she added. 

Markey and Manzullo also visited Hoefler’s Introduction to American Government class on Oct. 16 to discuss their previous districts in further detail and answer questions from students. Hoefler said this was a great way to attach a face to a name within the government. 

Hoefler also said, “Hopefully women in the room in particular can put themselves in those shoes and men in the room will be more likely to encourage their sisters, their mothers, their wives, their girlfriends to go do that,” Hoefler said.


“Congress to Campus” was sponsored by Clarke Forum and was held on Oct. 15 in ATS at 7 p.m.